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Department of Energy awards $3 million to UT engineers for research

     The Center for Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin has been awarded more than $3 million by the National Petroleum Technology Office of the U.S. Department of Energy to conduct research on advanced oil recovery technologies.

     “These four research grants will have a highly beneficial effect on our research program,” said Dr. Gary Pope, director of the center. “It gives us the ability to plan for our research activities over a significant period of time and it also allows us to put forth major efforts in some of these research areas on a scale that we previously could not. It will greatly benefit many current and future students who will have the opportunity to work on these projects as research assistants.”

     UT petroleum engineering professors, research staff, and students will seek to advance knowledge in several areas of subsurface engineering. Technologies emerging from these projects will be transferred to the nation's petroleum industries, and they can also be applied to a range of other natural resources such as ground water.

     Three of the four research projects will be supported for three years and one is a continuation of present work, which will be funded for an additional year.

     The UT Austin Center for Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering is the largest and most diversified oil recovery research center of any university in the country.

The four areas of research are as follows:

  • Dr. Mukul Sharma was awarded $1,008,000 to characterize the "wettability" of oil reservoirs and its effect on oil recovery. Wettability is the property that makes oil or water spread on a solid surface: for instance that makes water bead up on a freshly waxed car. Wettability has a huge impact on oil recovery but is poorly understood, especially in cases where parts of the reservoir (or even neighboring sand grains) differ in wettability. This project will study what causes differences in wettability, and how these differences can be determined, and how they affect oil recovery.
  • Drs. William Rossen, Russell Johns, and Pope were awarded $888,000 to study the development of more efficient gas flooding applicable to shallow reservoirs. This program will bring together both laboratory experiments and advanced computer methods to improve the recovery of oil from oil reservoirs by gas injection. Gas is injected into oil reservoirs because it can partially dissolve in the oil, making the oil flow more easily to wells. Methods are needed to "enrich" the gas with oil in order to help the process work at lower pressures in shallow reservoirs. In addition, foam can help the gas flow more evenly across the oil reservoir and thereby recover more oil.
  • Drs. Mojdeh Delshad, Kamy Sepehrnoori , and Pope were awarded $880,000 to improve the simulation of chemical and microbial methods for oil recovery. These researchers have developed a computer model of these processes called UTCHEM, which is widely used to study both oil recovery and ground water cleanup methods. This model will be further developed and applied to better understand and predict the complex phenomena associated with improving oil recovery.
  • Drs. Mary Wheeler, Pope, and Sepehrnoori were awarded $252,000 in additional funds to continue the development of a new generation framework for parallel reservoir simulation. This project will develop the next generation of computer simulators for oil reservoirs on massively parallel computers and clusters of PCs. "Parallel" simulators achieve greater speed by doing the calculations simultaneously on a large number of processors. The ability to store and process huge amounts of information will allow this oil reservoir model to achieve an unprecedented level of geological and process detail and realism in its results, and thus better predictions.